Thursday, May 20, 2010

Birth of Impressionism

Today I went to the deYoung Museum for a preview of Birth of Impressionism, an extraordinary exhibition that opens this week. It was, as advertised, a collection of masterpieces.

The Musee d’Orsay in Paris is being renovated. In a stroke of creative genius, rather than put the d’Orsay’s Impressionist collection in storage they decided to mount two shows, Birth of Impressionism and Van Gogh, Gaugin, Cezanne and Beyond, and make them available to a few select museums in different parts of the world. Madrid, Nashville, Canberra, and Tokyo will each have one of the shows. San Francisco is the only city that will host both shows.

This exhibition begins with a number of Salon paintings, the ‘in’ style favored by the art establishment before the upstart impressionists burst on the scene. I was simply underwhelmed by these baroque-ish, mystical, romantic classics. Is this all there is, I wondered. It wasn’t.

I came to another room and entered the world of Manet. And from there it was on to dozens of paintings by Renoir, Monet, Pissarro, Sisley, Degas, Cezanne. Simply wonderful. I have a preference for post-Impressionism over Impressionism and will likely be even more wowed by the second exhibition that will open in the fall, but without question what I saw today is more than worth a detour.


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